SMARTY is a new mobile network that will pay you for any data you don’t use

Choosing the right data allowance can be a tricky business. Some months you might need more than others, and you don’t want to risk running out… but that can also mean paying for data you don’t use. SMARTY, though, is a new mobile network that aims to simplify things.

Launching today, it refunds any data you don’t use each month by deducting the value from the following month’s fee. You’ll get refunded £1.25 for each unused gigabyte, which is exactly the same amount as you pay in the first place.

SMARTY has three plans on offer. A ‘Small’ plan which comes with 2GB of monthly data and costs £7.50, a ‘Medium’ plan which comes with 4GB and costs £10, and a ‘Large’ plan which comes with 8GB and costs £15.

Those prices are calculated based on the £1.25 per gigabyte, plus a £5 service charge, and you also get unlimited minutes and texts.

No contracts and no big bills

SMARTY will also charge you £1.25 per gigabyte that you use when you exceed your allowance, so you’re not subject to heavy charges. And you’re also free to change between the three plans every month, or cancel, as you’re not locked in to a contract.

SMARTY runs on Three’s network, so wherever you get a Three signal you should also get a signal with SMARTY, and the network seems competitively priced, though its upper-end data limits don’t come close to some networks, most notably Three itself, which has plans with unlimited data.

SMARTY only offers SIM-only plans, so if you want a contract with a shiny new Samsung Galaxy Note 8 or other phone thrown in, or to simply pay as you go, you’ll need to look elsewhere.

But for anyone who wants to simplify the business of data and make sure they’re really getting their money’s worth SMARTY could be well worth a look.

  • Three now offers unlimited data for Netflix bingeing

WhatsApp is reportedly getting serious with a business app for Android

WhatsApp is preparing to enter the business arena, with the chat giant apparently readying a mobile app for businesses and implementing a system of verified accounts for companies.

The firm is allegedly currently working on an Android mobile app aimed at businesses, which was mentioned in a job listing (spotted by Business Insider) for a ‘technical specialist, SMB – product operations’, which states under job responsibilities: “Become an expert in the WhatsApp Business app for Android and a source of information to the Market team members.”

Other sources have also talked about the incoming app, although there’s not much detail on exactly what functionality it will incorporate. However, speculation points to the ability for businesses to send automated customer support messages.

So it would seem that Facebook – which owns WhatsApp – is trying to find a new angle to leverage the popularity of this chat service, and that angle appears to revolve around businesses and customer support.

WhatsApp has over a billion users across 180 countries, so clearly there are major monetization opportunities here.

Verification across the nations

And as mentioned, the company is also readying a system of ‘verified business accounts’ that does exactly what it says, meaning that WhatsApp will verify that a contact phone number is indeed tied to a specific business, clearly displaying its validity with a big green tick icon.

The support page which clarifies this information further notes: “WhatsApp will also let you know when you start talking to a business via yellow messages inside a chat.”

Users will be able to block businesses if they so wish, and prevent organizations from communicating with them.

The business verification system is currently limited to a small number of companies, as it’s just a pilot program right now, but we’re guessing it might not be long before this sees a wider rollout.

  • We’ve picked out the best business mobiles for 2017

Move over, Pokemon Go: The Walking Dead just got its own AR mobile game

Remember Pokemon Go, the augmented reality mobile sensation that defined summer 2016? Well, get ready for an AR game of a completely different variety to become your next obsession. 

AMC and developer Next Game have announced The Walking Dead: Our World, a location-based augmented reality title for iOS and Android. 

A trailer reveals Our World more or less involves fighting off walkers, a.k.a. zombies, in real-world settings. You’re objective, according to TechCrunch, is to rescue survivors from The Walking Dead. It appears you can also utilize their signature weaponry, like a katana, to bring the zombies to their fate.

Just like Pokemon Go, The Walking Dead: Our World imposes digital images onto the real world. It’s definitely a more grown-up game than Pokemon Go, however, with blood, guns and general mayhem galore. 

Though Next Game didn’t explicitly say so, The Walking Dead: Our World looks to use the Apple ARKit tech coming in iOS 11 and the just-announced Google ARCore

These are frameworks that allow developers to create AR apps without requiring additional hardware from users. Both ARKit and ARCore will deliver augmented reality directly to millions of iPhones and Android phones when the software becomes available. 

As TechCrunch describes, Our World has a bit of fun baked in, such as letting you take a selfie with The Walking Dead character Michonne. Why not stop for a selfie in the middle of chopping down zombies?

The Walking Dead: Our World is “coming soon.” With the iOS 11 release scheduled for the fall (likely when the iPhone 8 goes on sale) and ARCore just now making it to developers, we probably don’t have too long to wait before we’re slaying walkers on the regular.  

  • Need a new laptop? Don’t miss our best laptop guide for 2017

A new BlackBerry phone with no keyboard is on the way soon

While many flocked to BlackBerry phones because of their tactile QWERTY keyboards, those who prefer the sleek feel of touchscreens may perk up at the next BlackBerry handset in the pipeline.

TCL, the manufacturer now in charge of the BlackBerry brand, has plans to release a companion device to the BlackBerry KeyOne. 

Only this time, according to TCL’s global head of sales François Mahieu (via CNET), the built-in keyboard will be taken away in favor of a full touchscreen display.

The new BlackBerry smartphone comes as somewhat of a shock because not only will it ditch the company’s signature physical keyboard, it will also be here in just two months. 

That’s right: the new, touchscreen-only BlackBerry phone has a release planned for sometime in October. 

BlackBerry KeyLess

Mahieu said the new phone will cost about the same as the KeyOne, which rings in at $549 (£499, AU$729), which is actually still cheaper than the iPhone 7 or the Samsung Galaxy S8. 

Still, the new BlackBerry phone will occupy the higher end of the spectrum compared to the company’s more budget-friendly, touchscreen-only Android phones: the BlackBerry DTEK50 and DTEK60. 

According to Engadget, the touch-only handset will also be certified water-resistant, a first for the BlackBerry brand.

While Mahieu assured BlackBerry isn’t ditching keyboards for good, this could prove to be a smart way to attract new buyers in an era of near ubiquitous touchscreen-only phones. It can pay to mix up your offerings, and TCL sounds willing to try just that. 

  • Everything you need to know about Android Oreo

Amazon’s Samsung Galaxy S8 deal is nearly half the Note 8 price

Amazon has one of the best deals on the Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus right now, as a number of other sellers have ended long-running sale prices.  

This summer has seen a lot of price cuts for the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus, with one of the best being $150 off, bringing the prices to $574 for a Galaxy S8 and $674 for a Galaxy S8 Plus. Samsung and Groupon offered this deal in the past, but recently stopped. 

Now Amazon has this deal going for the unlocked Midnight Black version of the 64GB Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S8 Plus. And for the Galaxy S8, that’s verging on half the price of a new Galaxy Note 8, which starts at $929, and some carriers are asking for $960 for the Note 8 price, like Verizon and Sprint.

  • Quick link: Here’s the Samsung Galaxy S8 deal ($150 off)

For anyone in the market for a new phone and dazzled by the Note 8 but crushed by its astronomical price tag, this Galaxy S8 deal is worth checking out.

The differences between the Note 8 and Galaxy S8 are a lot smaller than the difference in price. Both run on the same Snapdragon 835 chipset, Samsung’s snazzy curved edge technology, an IP68 rating for water- and dust-resistance, and a 1440×2960 display protected by Corning Gorilla Glass 5.

The biggest things the Note 8 adds to the package are a second camera on the back, another half-inch to the screen, 2GB of extra RAM, and Samsung’s built-in S Pen stylus.

The Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus are already great phones without a second camera, more RAM, and a stylus. For anyone that doesn’t absolutely need those, this deal is a more affordable way to get a top-of-the-line Samsung smartphone experience.

  • Still want it? Samsung Galaxy Note 8 deals in the US

Here’s where it becomes half the Note 8 price

Anyone who wants a little more out of the deal can throw in a Samsung Fast Charge wireless charging stand for $48 more. The stand has a list price $89, so the savings add up even higher with this bundle.

The $150 Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus price cut had been popping up regularly this summer, but is no longer listed on Samsung’s official site, so it might not be as easy to come across this kind of deal every day. 

This deal is being phased out elsewhere, and a better one might not come along until Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

  • View this Galaxy S8 deal on Amazon

IFA 2017: what to expect at the massive tech show in Berlin

UPDATE: Breaking cover ahead of the official IFA 2017 kick-off is Fitbit, which has just revealed its Fitbit Ionic wearable. The company’s first smartwatch, it’s expected to take on not one but two as-yet-unannounced new Samsung wearables at IFA 2017 – the Gear S4 (the successor to the Gear S3) and the fitness-focused Gear Fit 2 Pro. For details and leaked prices, head to the Fitbit and Samsung sections.

We’re only a few days away from the European tech extravaganza that is IFA 2017, and as the event draws closer, the tech community is collectively packing its bags, strapping on its boots, and heading off to Berlin. We’re easily identifiable at airports by the smart speakers bulging from our bags, the bottles of pilsners in our hands, and the rumbling of our bellies in time to the distant drumbeat of hot tech gadgetry. Or possibly the delicious currywurst sausages. 

There was a time when CES Las Vegas was the go-to event for consumer tech, while IFA specialized in home appliances and white goods. Over the last few years, however, IFA has expanded and it’s now a serious competitor to its American counterpart. 

Sure, you’ll still get more than your fair share of connected fridge freezers and robot vacuum cleaners, but you’ll also not be able to swing an iPhone without hitting a piece of high-end audio gear, laptop, TV, or brand new phone that will call to your wallet like a mermaid on the rocks.

As ever, TechRadar will be trawling the show floor, foregoing a healthy lunch and natural sunlight to bring you the best that IFA 2017 has to offer. But while you wait for the show to kickoff, read on for our hopes, predictions and expectations on what’s set to take the show by storm.

Cut to the chase

  • What is it? Europe’s annual technology blowout
  • When is it? Officially, IFA is open to the public from September 1 to 6, but press (like TechRadar) have access a few days earlier
  • What’s on show? Everything from Wi-Fi fridges to smartphones, giant companies like Samsung to first-time start-ups

Samsung at IFA 2017

IFA 2016 was all about the smartwatches for Samsung, and we might well see a repeat performance at this year’s conference.

We now know all about the Samsung Galaxy Note 8 of course, and IFA 2017 will most probably be the first opportunity for anyone outside of the Samsung dev team to get some quality time with the big-screen device.

When unveiling the Note 8, Samsung also confirmed it would be launching a new Gear S smartwatch at IFA 2017, so that’s something to look forward to – it sounds very much like this will be the Gear S4, and it’s also very likely that Samsung has timed this to beat the Apple Watch Series 3 to market.

Also in wearables, we’re expecting to see the release of a Gear Fit 2 Pro at IFA 2017. Price-wise, it’s been leaked that it will cost $199.99 (about £160, AU$250) and, for that, you will get waterproofing and offline access to Spotify straight from the device.

Though tablets are less of a concern for the company these days, there’s a good chance Samsung may put out a slate to compliment this year’s Galaxy Tab S3, while the Gear 4 smartwatch making an appearance would continue Samsung’s tradition for displaying wearables at IFA.

And then, of course, there’s the smart home. Samsung’s been touting its ‘Smart Things’ ecosystem for years now, but with the explosion in voice-activated speakers and affordable Internet of Things devices, it’s a steadily growing area. With the white goods interaction the connected home offers, IFA 2017 will be the perfect stage for Samsung to show off some more of its efforts in the space. As for TVs, Samsung’s already shown off its 2017 range, so don’t expect any massive announcements like the unveiling of its Quantum Dot technology, but it may still find room for a 2018 TV tech tease, or a mad, never-to-be-affordable concept screen.

Sony at IFA 2017

Sony always puts on a good show at IFA, holding back a few flagship announcements for the autumn showcase along with some concept devices to set the mind wandering into the far-flung crazy tech future.

We’re fully expecting Sony to continue with its traditional 6-month flagship phone cycle, meaning IFA could be a good platform at which to launch the rumored Xperia X2.

Android tablets don’t really make the headlines anymore, but Sony’s slick, slim waterproof models are still among the best to sport the Google OS. We’d love to see another make an appearance. Likewise, Sony doesn’t seem as keen on smartwatches anymore, but new TVs, headphones, speakers and even some camera equipment are all safe bets for the show floor.

Fitbit at IFA 2017

It’s been a long time coming, but Fitbit has finally unveiled its first smartwatch, the Fitbit Ionic. Though breaking cover a little ahead of the official opening of IFA 2017, it’ll make its public debut at the Berlin show.

Waterproof, slickly designed and (as you’d expect from Fitbit) fitness focussed, it opts for a square face and uses the company’s own Fitbit OS. With a 384 x 250 LCD reaching 1000 nits and built in GPS, you’ll get 10 hours of constant tracking from the Ionic.

At £299.95/$299.95/AU$449.95 it’s a bit pricey though – that’s more than the Fitbit Surge, and not far off the more feature-rich Apple Watch 2 and Android Wear alternatives. It’s a solid device from our hands-on look, and while it may not have the pocket-money appeal of other fitness trackers, those invested in the Fitbit brand looking for an upgrade will likely find much to enjoy.

LG at IFA 2017

If the rumormill is to be believed we are going to be seeing the LG V30 for the first time at IFA 2017. This would be a big departure from form for LG, given that a ‘V’ series phone has never been revealed at IFA before. Last year LG hosted a separate event in San Francisco at the same time as IFA to launch the V20.

We are expecting the V30 to carry on with the two-screen tradition of the V series up until this point. Following in the footsteps of a lot of the flagships of the moment we are expecting it to be bezel-less and have two cameras on the back.

But wait, there’s more – the latest word on the LG street is that the LG V30 Plus will also make an appearance at IFA 2017. It’ll have a larger screen, a bigger battery, more storage, and maybe a few extra goodies as well.

Huawei at IFA 2017

Huawei loves IFA. The Chinese brand has used the Berlin stage to go from cash-rich smartphone upstart to… cash-rich genuine mobile player.

It’ll continue its rise towards the smartphone elite this year, with the company likely to show off its Mate 10 phablet and mid-range Nova additions at this year’s event.

Huawei also often uses IFA to waggle its wearable-adorned wrists, so expect an update to the Huawei Watch line, and iPad Pro bothering MediaPad tablets.

Philips at IFA 2017

IFA is always a good show for Philips. With one foot in the living room with its TVs and… several other feet in other rooms of the house with its connected tech line-up, there’s always a diverse array of products on display from Philips.

The company has already hinted at a sparkling new connected toothbrush product, but its connected lighting Hue equipment always gets a nod. In addition to this, its Fidelio speakers could get an Alexa-enabled smart injection, and its TP Vision-powered screens are likely to get their annual refresh too. Its Ambilux UHD TV from a couple of years back was a showstopper – here’s hoping they’ve something similarly mad this year.

The rest

There are hundreds of exhibitors at IFA 2017 – the above are just those that have given the biggest hints at what to expect from their labs at this year’s show. We’ll keep this page updated with all the biggest leaks and news in the run up to the show, but here’s the five-second rundown on some of the other major players in the industry yet to show their hands.

Acer: Having launched an insane curved screen Predator 21X gaming laptop at IFA 2016, expect similarly-mad gaming focused hardware, making use of Nvidia Max Q tech at this year’s show.

Alienware / Dell: Gaming all the way here – 4K screens and Max Q internals will again take top billing.

AMD: Ryzen 3 is unlikely to make an appearance at IFA 2017, but AMD’s having a good run at the moment against its GPU rival Nvidia, so expect to see some gaming gear with AMD internals garner praise.

Asus: Zenfone Android devices will likely make an appearance, but rarely bother than Android top-dogs. What’s always fun though is the ASUS gaming gear – Republic of Gaming desktops, monitors and pixel pushing laptops will be the most exciting items on show from Asus.

HTC: With phones taking a back seat at recent show’s for HTC (with the exception of the ‘A’ line), virtual reality gear is likely to be HTC’s show focus if it makes an appearance. Given that HTC is making two different standalone headsets, one with Google, and one on its own platform there is a (admittedly slim) possibility that we could get our first glimpse at IFA. Unlikely, but we can dream.

Harman Kardon (JBL/ AKG):  The audio giants always hit IFA hard, with everything from luxury headphones to Bluetooth speakers and smart audio gear on offer from each of the three brands. Given that its Cortana-powered speaker Invoke is due to go on sale in autumn, we would be surprised if we don’t see the Alexa competitor here.

Intel: With Kaby Lake out in the wild, expect to see plenty of laptops, convertibles and desktops running Intel’s speedy and power-efficient processing tech.

Nokia: Hot on the heels of its Nokia 3310 revival, Nokia (as a phone company) is on a relative high. While it’s not yet given away any IFA 2017 plans, it’d be the perfect time to show off its rumored Nokia 9 Android flagship.

New HTC U11 launches with 128GB storage and 6GB of RAM

The HTC U11 is one of our best phones, but for UK buyers an even better model is about to land: one with 128GB of storage (up from the 64GB that’s currently available).

And that’s not the only difference, as it’s also boosted from 4GB to 6GB of RAM, making it even more powerful than the standard version of HTC’s flagship.

The only other change is that it comes with a dual SIM card slot as standard, whatever colour you choose, where currently you can only get a dual SIM model in Solar Red.

Familiar, but too much?

The phone is otherwise identical to the existing HTC U11, meaning you’ll get a strong 12MP camera, an attractive two-tone glass design, top-quality audio performance, flagship power from a Snapdragon 835 chipset and a squeezable frame.

It also comes with a microSD card slot with support for cards of up to 256GB, so there shouldn’t be any need to run low on space – though if you’re using a microSD card you won’t be able to stick in a second SIM, as they use the same slot.

If you want to get your hands on this new beefier HTC U11 you can pre-order it now for £699, which is £50 more than the RRP of the 64GB version. There’s no exact release date yet, but apparently it will start shipping in early September.

  • We’ve got a wish list for the HTC U12

Here’s how Aussies can get the OnePlus 5 and how much it’ll cost

UPDATE: You can purchase a OnePlus 5 from 10am on Tuesday, August 29 from www.oneplus.net/au. The handset is available in a 64GB/6GB  configuration for $599 or the 128GB/8GB model is $699, and both of these will come with a free OnePlus 5 Sandstone protective case. If you’re eager to see what the OnePlus fuss is about, you better hurry as stocks are limited and the special soft launch pricing and bonus case offer won’t stick around.

Original article continues below.

Chinese smartphone manufacturer OnePlus has announced that it will be ‘soft launching’ — essentially, doing a test run — its hotly-anticipated OnePlus 5 flagship handset in Australia on August 29.

According to the company, this initial test launch will consist of ‘a limited-stock open sales event’, where customers can purchase a single handset from oneplus.net/au, as well as two fan meetups in Sydney and Melbourne. Details on what the latter meetups will consist of are still to be confirmed.

The stock available from the oneplus.net/au store will be limited, and sales will cease when this runs out. If you’re super keen on picking up a handset, we’d therefore suggest getting in quick. According to OnePlus, the reasoning behind the limited event is to “test product and supply chains in Australia”, presumably ahead of any major launches the company may or may not be planning.

Crunching the numbers

The OnePlus 5 will arrive in two varieties, as quoted from the press release:

  • The OnePlus 5 with 6GB RAM + 64GB storage in Slate Gray and Soft Gold colors will be available for AU$599. 
  • The OnePlus 5 with 8GB RAM + 128GB storage in Midnight Black and Slate Gray colors will be available for AU$699.

These prices seem quite reasonable, considering the lower and the higher tier models launched for US$479 and US$539 respectively in the US only two months ago — these prices almost directly reflect currency-conversion rates, which we don’t often see with tech pricing in Australia.

Further to this, if you purchase either model during this soft launch phase, you will receive a free OnePlus 5 Sandstone protective case, although the company has been at pains to re-iterate that the above pricing and bonus offer only applies to the soft launch period.

If you’re considering getting accessories for the OnePlus 5, you’ll be given the chance to add select items to a handset order — unfortunately, Australians won’t be able to purchase them separately after the fact, although the company is offering a discount on regular accessory pricing:

  • OnePlus Bullets (V2) for AU$14.95
  • OnePlus 5 Karbon Bumper Case for AU$24.95
  • Dash Car Charge for AU$24.95

There’s always a catch

There’s one caveat to this soft launch — according to the press release from OnePlus, this first batch of handsets will unfortunately not come with an Australian charger, instead shipping with a UK Type G plug charger. Thankfully, the phones will work fine on all Australian mobile networks, however. 

If you’re fine to charge via USB or travel adapter and are after an excellent handset at a decent price, then get ready to visit oneplus.net/au on August 29.

  • In the meantime, check out our in-depth OnePlus 5 review to see what all the fuss is about.

Dolby Atmos: The ins, outs and sounds of the object-based surround system

Dolby Atmos promises to be the future of sound, and yet it’s something that hasn’t quite made its way out of the inner circles of audio enthusiast forums. 

In more or less words, it’s a new audio format that will allow you to hear sound in a 360-degree bubble. With its object-oriented audio engineering and its up-or-down-firing speakers, Atmos is changing the way home theaters are setup and, more importantly, how sound is distributed in the room.

In the past, we’ve explored how exactly Dolby Atmos is the future of cinema sound, as well as how the technology is hacking our ears. But we’ve never sat down to truly explain what the technology is, why it’s important and, most importantly, how you can get it in your own home. Until now.

The experiment was challenging to say the least, taking hours of research and planning, setting up a system and finally finding something to watch with it.

You can consider the results of the experiment a field guide into next-level home entertainment. Or, if you don’t plan on making the leap into the aural unknown, a sneak peek at what’s to come in the next five years.

Dolby Atmos

The basics: what is Dolby Atmos?

Dolby Atmos is a new audio format – like stereo sound or surround sound that takes recorded audio from a movie soundtrack or a video game and spits it out in a more immersive way. Dolby Atmos gives sound a more three-dimensional effect – imagine the difference between hearing a helicopter flying a few hundred yards away versus directly over your head.

The technology is being developed by Dolby Laboratories, an audio company that specializes in sound reproduction and encoding. You’ve probably seen their logo on DVD or Blu-ray boxes or on the latest audio equipment.

The first film to be mixed in the new format was Pixar’s Brave in 2012 and there have since been several films, a few television shows and a handful of video games that have utilized the technology since.

That said, Dolby isn’t the only one working on an object-based 3D-surround system – one of its rivals, DTS, has its own version called DTS:X.

So how does Dolby plan on creating a sound bubble? For the answer to that question, all you have to do is look up. 

Dolby Atmos creates a bubble of sound by bouncing beams of audio off your ceiling and then to your ears. As you might imagine, this takes a bit of calibration, and a fairly flat ceiling. As long as you have the latter and don’t mind doing the former when it comes time, let’s press on.

Step 1. Finding the system

Right now, there are two ways to bring Atmos to your home: either buying a TV that straight-up supports Dolby Atmos, or building a sound system of your own out of Dolby Atmos-capable equipment. 

The former is obviously a bit easier than the latter, however it’s a bit more expensive. The Dolby Atmos-ready LG W7 OLED is fantastic with a built-in 5.0.2 soundbar that’s just all-too-happy to bring you room-filling audio for a mere $6,999 (£6,999 or AU$13,499). 

If you don’t have $7,000 burning a hole in your pocket, however, there are plenty of cheaper entry points – an Xbox One S or an Oppo UDP-203 4K Blu-ray player hooked up to an LG SJ9 Soundbar would do the trick.

If you’d rather just expand the home system you already have, major audio manufacturers like Onkyo, Denon, Yamaha and Pioneer all make audio/visual receivers capable of processing Dolby Atmos audio tracks, with few distinctions for the layman between the mid-tier models. 

The key point here is that as long as you have Dolby Atmos content fed through a Dolby Atmos player to a pair of Dolby Atmos speakers, you’re all set. 

For our one-day experiment, I went with an Onkyo TX-NR747 receiver and its SKS-HT594 5.1.2 home theater in a box, which is five speaker units with surround sound and a subwoofer. 

Dolby atmos

But why did I choose Onkyo’s package for this setup instead of a Klipsch or purely Pioneer pairing? The SKS-HT594 has front left and front right speakers that do double duty as both left and right channels as well as the additional two height channels needed for Dolby Atmos, which was great for my small San Francisco apartment.

This means I didn’t need to completely rewire my entire living room and saved myself a bunch of time. Now, down the road, I could see myself switching to a slightly more powerful setup, a 7.1.2 or even a 7.1.4 setup (left/right audio, center, two sets of L/R surround, a subwoofer and four ceiling speakers), but I decided not to get greedy on my first time working with Atmos.

If you’re still a bit hazy about where to start shopping for Atmos products, Dolby offers a handy catalog of all the current Dolby Atmos-ready products.

Step 2. Wiring and configuring the system

With system in hand, it came time for the fun part: wiring. Like most systems, Onkyo’s HTiB (or home theater in a box) comes with color-coded cables. Match positive ends to positive terminals of the same color, and you’re in business.

The only real difference between Dolby Atmos and your run-of-the-mill speakers is that the former will have two sets of terminals – one for front left and right audio and one for height left and right – instead of one. Make sure both are connected to the proper terminals on the receiver.

Once the stars have aligned and your speakers are connected, run the setup on the receiver to calibrate the the system.

I won’t walk you through whole setup process for your system, but make sure when you select a configuration you choose something with three digits (e.g. 5.1.2 or 7.1.2, etc), which indicates that you want to enable Dolby Atmos.

After you’ve got your system placed perfectly comes the moment of truth.

Step 3. Finding content and testing it out

Let’s turn on the system and connect it to a Dolby Atmos-capable player (Xbox One or a Dolby Atmos-enabled Blu-ray player). Good job! Now, all that’s left to find is some Dolby Atmos content.

Thankfully, that’s a task that becomes easier with each and every passing day. The best way to test out the new system is with Netflix’s DeathNote, BLAME! or Okja (available with both Dolby Atmos and Dolby Vision, a version of HDR that enhances the colors and contrast of your favorite films). 

How do you know it’s playing in Dolby Atmos? Look for the Atmos icon next to the title of the film.

If you’re looking for more content to watch, check out one of the 100+ titles available on 4K Blu-ray that have Dolby Atmos. (For a full list, click here.)

For gamers, however, native Dolby Atmos content is still a bit sparse. Right now, only two games are mixed for Dolby Atmos: Overwatch and Star Wars Battlefront – both of which require the PC versions of the game. 

There is another way to get Dolby Atmos in games, though. 

Dolby has recently launched the Dolby Access app on Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs that upmixes stereo and 5.1 surround mixes to Dolby Atmos. The app is free to try and available to own for $14.99. Upmixed content never quite sounds as good as native Atmos, but hey, $15 is a whole lot cheaper than a brand-new soundbar or receiver, that’s for sure.

So, what are you looking for once you’ve got your content? Dolby Atmos creates a sound bubble of audio. You should be able to hear raindrops falling from the sky and thunder in clouds that sound like they’re 10 feet above your head. Ideally, it should feel like your room is filled with sound from every direction. If it doesn’t, re-check the connections or dive back into the settings.

Dolby atmos

Dolby Atmos works best in a smaller room with a level ceiling. Changing the slope of the ceiling messes with the reflection angle of the surround sound. 

In my small, cathedral-ceiling apartment, I didn’t have the best of luck recreating the nuanced and perfectly balanced audio experience I’ve had at Dolby’s labs, but that said, there times when everything came together and worked perfectly were some of my favorite times spent in front of my TV.

Atmos is a lot like 4K, in a way

Dolby outlines three other primary sources for Atmos content: there are games on PC like Star Wars Battlefront and Battlefield 1, Dolby Atmos-compatible Blu-rays and movies from streaming services like Netflix and Vudu, the Walmart-owned video streaming service. 

Now, problematically at the time of testing, I didn’t have all of these on hand – and I expect you might find yourself in a similar situation. The landscape is still a bit scattered at the moment. It’s something Dolby has done its best to correct, but because it depends on partnerships to bring content to the masses (see: Microsoft, LG, Netflix, Vudu, Oppo, etc…) finding all the content in one spot is, at this point, a technical impossibility.

The good news is that the technology is still in its infancy. In conversations with top Dolby engineers, they’ve admitted that there are still some kinks to the distribution process that they hope will be alleviated when the platform grows larger and more robust. In my opinion, it’s still really clever and interesting technology that will revolutionize the home cinema once it becomes the standard, rather than something reserved for audiophiles like myself.

Like Ultra-HD, there’s not a lot of content out there to support the tech, but do a bit of digging and you’ll uncover some real ear-candy.

Dolby atmos

Should you upgrade to Dolby Atmos?

The big question: Should you upgrade your system to Dolby Atmos?

If you’re an entertainment junky keen on having the latest and greatest tech – i.e. you already own a 4K TV and a seriously sweet surround sound system – then yes. But if you’re an average movie or TV buff, I would wait until the tech begins to normalize and comes down a bit more in price. 

The technology is almost ready for mainstream consumption with a number of game developers working on titles that support Atmos and with Hollywood seemingly loving the technology which means now might be the best time to jump on the bandwagon.

Like 4K TVs a few years ago, Dolby Atmos isn’t for everyone. It’s not the easiest thing to wrap your head around and content isn’t as much of a buffet as it is a fine three-course dinner. It’s an investment in the future of audio technology, one that will pay off down the road but right now feels like a bit of a risk.

Still on the fence? Wait until CES 2018, where I’m sure we’ll hear even more about Atmos and its main contender, DTS:X.

Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality headsets to get SteamVR and Halo experiences

Big news: Microsoft has announced that its Windows Mixed Reality headsets will support SteamVR content. 

The first headsets, due to arrive during the Christmas holiday season, will run SteamVR experiences, which are already supported on top-end headsets like the HTC Vive and Oculus Rift. 

HP, Lenovo, Dell and Acer will each release their own Windows Mixed Reality headset along with motion controllers later this year. Bundles start at $399 (about £310 / AU$505), Microsoft said today. 

  • The best laptops of 2017

But the content news doesn’t stop at Steam. Microsoft also announced it’s working with 343 Industries to bring Halo VR to Windows Mixed Reality. 

Details are thin on the ground as to what these Halo experiences will entail, but this is a major get for the newest VR platform, if an unsurprising one. Minecraft, too, is making its way to Windows Mixed Reality, as spotted in this video:

A new way to VR

Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality journey began with the unveiling of the augmented reality headset HoloLens in 2015, and it’s since expanded to include affordable headsets from different hardware partners. 

Following developer edition releases of Acer and HP’s mixed reality head-mounted displays (HMD) earlier this month, we’re now a short time away from the first of these headsets going on sale to the public. 

Dell has already announced a bundle for its Visor HMD, one that costs $459 (about £360 / AU$580) and includes controllers. The Dell Visor on its own starts at $360 (around £280 / AU$450). 

  • HTC Vive vs Oculus Rift: which VR headset is better?

Microsoft says its goal with Windows Mixed Reality is to democratize VR by allowing various hardware partners to build devices at different price points. 

Importantly, the headsets arriving later this year will feature built-in sensors, eliminating the need for external sensors and letting you take the headset and compatible PC (i.e., laptop) anywhere. PCs for Windows Mixed reality start at $499 (about £385 / AU$630), Microsoft said.

Microsoft also announced today it’s breaking the requisite PCs into two categories: Windows Mixed Reality PCs and Windows Mixed Reality Ultra PCs. 

The first category consists of laptops and desktops with integrated graphics. On this tier, headsets will run at 60 frames per second. 

The Ultra level is made of laptops and desktops housing discrete graphics. Headsets plugged into these machines will run at 90 frames per second. 

Microsoft is laying the groundwork for the first wave of Windows Mixed Reality headset releases later this year, and content is a crucial part of the effort.

It’s encouraging to see the company line up solid content offerings like Halo and Minecraft along with Steam for the HMDs, and we can expect even more game and hardware news to be announced before long.

  • The best cheap Oculus Rift deals this month